A Classroom in a Garden

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As a public school teacher, I hear a lot about problems in education. And I hear a lot about solutions -- usually some new technology. Schools are installing high-speed Internet and interactive computer boards to replace chalk boards. I've even seen kindergarteners using the Internet, wireless laptops and all.

But at the school where I teach, students are learning with a different form of technology. And as innovations go, this one is decidedly low-tech.

It's a shovel.

Kids at my school, ages 5-11, all work in a garden.

It's a little corner of our city schoolyard. The kids plant vegetables and flowers, keep away the weeds and pests, and harvest what they've planted. And how is that learning? They are solving real-life math problems every day: how many seeds does it take to grow enough vegetables for everyone?


They're learning science. A garden is, more than anything, science in action. The students come to know the power of sun and rain, or the lack of it. They observe the reality of the food chain, as hungry insects, snails and the occasional raccoon try to eat the products of their hard work.

But they learn other lessons, too. These city kids have a rare chance to participate in that most ancient, seasonal cycle of life and death and rebirth -- a time to plant, a time to harvest. In a way that no website will ever show them, as fall turns to winter to spring, they learn that you will get back only what you have put in, and that nothing comes easy.

A garden doesn't have a lightning-fast download. But as they dig deeply in the soil, the students are learning a deep truth. All of life is a garden, and each of us, in our own way, tries to make our garden grow. They come to understand that among the beautiful flowers, there will always be some weeds.

And in a society where personal responsibility seems increasingly rare, these students have learned something else: you reap what you sow. Our world might be in better shape if everyone remembered that.

So maybe a garden isn't the latest in technology. But for these kids, the lessons learned tilling the soil may last a lot longer than the ones learned clicking the keyboard.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.